A freelance writer and traveller who likes to explore the spiritual, literary and hidden gems of Adelaide and beyond.
Published January 5th 2016
Rewinding the Past
William Boyd is an accomplished writer of historical events and he writes a great thriller too. His newest book entitled Sweet Caress is a historical retrospective of the life of a fictional photographer named Amory Clay. Through her eyes the reader is taken through some of the major events of the twentieth century.
Amory's claim to fame is of one of the first female photographers of wartime. The tale is told as she traverses war zones and key historical moments. Amory looks back on these times and recounts through her favourite photographs. It is never stated where these photographs for the book are sourced. Curiously the reader never really gets to know Amory as she is largely an observer - it seems her role is just to move the story along.
The narrative flicks back and forth from past times to the present day for Amory, which is 1977. She reflects back on how she survived, who she met, her mistakes and the random course of events that life throws at you. However there remains this distance between Amory and the reader. She may have been a reporter to some of the turbulent times in history, but she remains out of focus. Her real emotions unknown. This is a source of frustration as the reader is given the task of searching for motivations and background to unfolding plots.
Perhaps there are just too many big historical events that Amory was witness too, with her own life just a plot device to get the history on the page. The reader is taken to Berlin of the 1920's, the New York Jazz age of the 1920's,1930's England, onto seeing action in the Second World War. Then still further to Vietnam of the 60's.
I was carried along by the turns of the story. There is a voyeuristic element to this, but even as the main characters reach moments of crisis it seems to lack real emotion. Amory's final account should be very moving, but again it seems dispassionate. This is a very readable book, but the reader would have been more rewarded if the characters had a life beyond the rudimentary.